Category Archives: Christianity

Stonewall Jackson’s Faith Speaks to Christians Today

I have happily returned to reading Robertson’s biography of Thomas Jonathan Jackson. Because the writing is good, and based on both first hand accounts, private letters and contemporary reports, I feel I almost know the man. And I admire him. We need people like him in our country today, those who are public servants in the best sense: committed to fulfilling public and private duty. But more than that, I admire him as a Christian, a man who struggled to know and do God’s will.

The following section from the book occurs shortly after the Harper’s Ferry incident and the ensuing anxiety about sucession.

From the book:

“For Jackson, Lincoln’s election meant that, barring divine intervention, the days of the Union were numbered. Now was the time for serious discussion and mediation. He joined with eleven other Lexington gentlemen in issuing a call for a town meeting to consider the state of the Union. ‘By expression of our opinion,’ the group stated, residents could band together and ‘contribute our mite [sic] to arrest, if possible, the impending calamity–and if that is impossible, then to consult together as to what is the safest course for us to pursue in the event of a dissolution of the Federal government.’ Several gatherings took place, and a number of study committees came into being. Each produced much rhetoric but little resolution. As meetings became more inflammatory, Jackson’s support dwindled. He soon stopped attending the sessions.

Within a few days, Jackson relaxed. He had decided, as was his custom, to put his trust in God. Deacon Jackson would await further developments. Meanwhile, and as a deacon, Jackson had the responsibility for securing accommodations for visiting Presbyterian clergy. Jackson usually found it expedient to extend to such guests the hospitality of his own home.

The Reverend J. B. Ramsey of Lynchburg was at that time staying with the Jacksons. One morning the family had just risen from family prayers. Ramsey expressed lamentations over the state of the country. Jackson listened patiently, then gave the preacher a mini-sermon. “Why should Christians be disturbed about the dissolution of the Union? It can come only by God’s permission, and will only be permitted if for His people’s good; for does He not say, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God?’ I cannot see how we should be distressed about such things, whatever be their consequences.”

The Fourth Commandment

From my earliest memories I knew about the Sabbath. Both of my parents came from generations of ancestors who kept the Sabbath, Seventh Day Baptists. When I grew up I was puzzled by the seeming lack of honor for the 7th day Sabbath (or the “Lord’s Day” Sabbath as well) in other Christian communities. As time went on, and I did not normally live where I had access to Seventh Day Baptist churches, I grew accustomed to worshiping in church for an hour or so on Sunday, and nodding to Sabbath by trying not to shop or clean my house on that day. I wouldn’t say, now, that I kept the Sabbath holy.

This week I was surprised to hear Alistair Begg, who is not a Sabbatarian, preach passionately on the Sabbath and the fourth commandment. From the sermon:

Now, there are two things that mitigate against any good understanding of this commandment, and they are these: on the one hand, an almost complete lack of conviction about any notion of the abiding significance of the fourth commandment—and we’ll address that in a moment—and on the other hand, almost total confusion concerning the nature not only of all the Ten Commandments but peculiarly of this one day.

Now, we can highlight this in a number of ways. Let me do so by quoting from the Civil War. I think it’s the Civil War, isn’t it? Stonewall Jackson? General Jackson is a legend in American history. Any of you who have read of Jackson will know that he was a man of extreme principle and character. At the very heart of this was his conviction of faith in Jesus Christ. And his extreme rigorous character attached itself also to the observance of the Sabbath. And writing in his biography, his widow says,

Certainly he was not less scrupulous in obeying the divine command to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” than he was in any other rule of his life. Since the Creator had set apart this day for his own, and commanded it to be kept holy, he believed that it was … wrong for him to desecrate it by worldly pleasure, idleness, or secular employment, as to break any other commandment of the decalogue. Sunday was his busiest day of the week, as he always attended church twice a day and taught in two Sabbath schools! He refrained as much as possible from all worldly conversation, and in his family, if secular topics were introduced, he would say, with a kindly smile, “We will talk about that to-morrow.”

He never travelled on Sunday, never took his mail from the post-office, nor permitted a letter of his own to travel on that day, always before posting it calculating the time it required to reach its destination ….

One so strict in his own Sabbath observance naturally believed that it was wrong for the government to carry the [mail] on Sunday. Any organization which exacted secular labor of its employees on the Lord’s day was, in his opinion, a violator of God’s law.[2]

And so his life was marked by a rigorous obedience to the law of God.

Now, loved ones, here’s the question: Is this quote from Jackson an anachronism? In other words, if Jackson was right, where does that leave us? ’Cause if we’re right, most of us, he was wrong. But one thing is for sure: we’re not both right. So we need to go to our Bibles, then, and determine who approximates to the instruction of God’s Word closely. Is it us, in our libertine rejection of the Lord’s Day, or is it Jackson, in his rigorous obedience of it?

You can read the transcript, or listen (which I suggest) here:

https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/holy-day-or-holiday-pt1/https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/holy-day-or-holiday-pt2/

A Hymn of Hope


I Look Not Back

By: Annie Johnson Flint

I look not back; God knows the fruitless efforts,
The wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets.
I leave them all with Him who blots the record,
And graciously forgives, and then forgets.

I look not forward; God sees all the future,
The road that, short or long, will lead me home,
And He will face with me its every trial,
And bear for me the burdens that may come.

I look not round me; then would fears assail me,
So wild the tumult of earth’s restless seas,
So dark the world, so filled with woe and evil,
So vain the hope of comfort and of ease.

I look not inward; that would make me wretched;
For I have naught on which to stay my trust.
Nothing I see save failures and shortcomings,
And weak endeavors, crumbling into dust.

But I look up–into the face of Jesus,
For there my heart can rest, my fears are stilled;
And there is joy, and love, and light for darkness,
And perfect peace, and every hope fulfilled.

The Long View

I found this interview with Pastor Aaron Graham of The District Church in Washington, DC so encouraging. It reminded me that God is working in that city, regardless of the politics and power struggles I see in the news.

From the article, one question and answer:

Elijah: You mentioned the progressive bubble in D.C. earlier, it seems to be around the world. Both large national church organizations all the way down to the local church are grappling with this progressive social narrative, issues like gender identity or abortion, life issues, racial issues. It seems to be really this tension between the church trying to welcome as many people as possible while also standing firm theologically. How have you tried to meet that intersection, and also bring the church through it as well, particularly being in such a progessive area?

Pastor Graham: I think it’s just doing the hard work of trying to teach people to think Biblically, and to increase Biblical literacy. Because we live in the social media age along with 24 hour news cycles, that many Christians today are more discipled by media commentators than they are by the Word of God. It becomes difficult for a pastor to speak to the issues in a way where it’s not already emotionally charged. I try to teach and preach the Bible, and allow the Bible to speak to the issues of the time. When I went through the Sermon on the Mount recently, I critiqued progressive Chrisitanity and Christian nationalism. What happened in our city on January 6th with the insurrection had its roots in Christian nationalism, where people don’t know where the American dream begins and Christianity ends. It’s just all one and the same, and it’s like Christianity is America and we have to create this top down. That’s dangerous, we have to preach against that. Likewise, there’s a movement deconstructing core theological doctrines that have been consensus doctrines for 2,000 years in the local church. In our quest to do good, to do justice, we’re forgetting fallen humanity, that the chief problem is fallen humanity and that’s shared across all groups of people. That’s what makes the gospel so great and so inclusive, is that we’re all fallen, and that God has given us a way to be reconciled to Him through Christ and through His death for us on the cross.

It’s easy to respond to whatever’s popping up here or there, important things and important current events, things that we should be engaged in, to forget our history and to forget the Bible. Biblical literacy and understanding the core Christian doctrines of the faith have become an increasing priority to me the longer that I’ve been here, because I’ve realized that I think secular culture is doing a better job of discipling urban Christians than the local church is. I’m having to be more intentional and aggressive about that, to say hey, let’s make sure the questions you’re asking around progressive Christianity, that progressive Christianity doesn’t become a layover to post-Christianity. That reading progessive Christianity becomes a place where you can wrestle with your doubts and come back to historic Christianity and a deeper sense, rather than “oh, this is just an exit for me to total deconstruction.” I talk about the difference between doubt and deconstruction, that doubt is a normal part of growth, asking questions, not just inheriting your parents faith, wrestling with these things, but active deconstruction is trying to tear down things where progressives have an agenda to then convert Christians to their agenda, just like Christian nationalists have the same thing.

The Peace of God

From J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God (1973):

Too often the peace of God is thought of as if it were essentially a feeling of inner tranquility, happy and carefree, springing from knowledge that God will shield one from life’s hardest knocks. But this is a misrepresentation….

The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God’s peace which does not start here can do other than mislead. One of the miserable ironies of our time is that whereas liberal and radical theologians believe themselves to be restating the gospel for today, they have for the most part rejected the categories of wrath, guilt, condemnation and the enmity of God, and so have made it impossible for themselves ever to present the gospel at all, for they cannot now state the basic problem which the gospel of peace solves.

The peace of God, then, primarily and fundamentally, is a new relationship of forgiveness and acceptance, and the source from which it flows is propitiation.

Religion and Politics

I have been thinking a lot about divisions among Christians, and how to think about them in a way that honors God. I think Lewis is spot on.

I found this quote in a wonderful book I admired and was then given, The Quotable Lewis, Martindale and Root, 1989, included in the section titled “Church: Divisions.”

Tomorrow I am crossing over (if God so have pleased) to Ireland: my birthplace and dearest refuge so far as charm of landscape goes, and temperate climate, although most dreadful because of the strife, hatred and often civil war between dissenting faiths.

    There indeed both your and ours [Catholic and Protestant] “know not by what Spirit they are led.”  They take lack of charity for zeal and mutual ignorance for orthodoxy.

    I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics.  For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power.  Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which “covers a multitude of sins.”

The Only Permanence

Quoting Paul Tillich’s “The Shaking of the Foundations”:

[T]he 90th Psalm…starts with a song of praise: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place age after age.” In order to describe human transitoriness, the poet glorifies the Divine Eternity.  Before looking downward he looks upward.  Before considering man’s misery he points to God’s majesty.  Only because we look at something infinite can we realize that we are finite.  Only because we are able to see the eternal can we see the limited time that is given us.  Only because we can elevate ourselves above the animals can we see that we are like animals.  Our melancholy about our transitoriness is rooted in our power to look beyond it.  Modern pessimists do not start their writings by praising the Eternal God.  They think that they can approach man directly and speak about his finiteness, misery and tragedy.  But they do not succeed.  Hidden–often to themselves– is a criterion by which they measure and condemn human existence.  It is something beyond man.  When the Greek poets called men the “mortals”, they had in mind the immortal gods by which they measured human mortality.  The measure of man’s transitoriness is God’s eternity; the measure of man’s misery and tragedy is the Divine Perfection.  That is what the psalmist means when he calls God our dwelling place, the only permanence in the change of all the ages and generations.  That is why he starts his song of profoundest melancholy with the praise of the Lord.

Affirmations of God And Man, Edmund Fuller, 1967

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2090&version=KJV

In the Rooms

The church I regularly attend has recently adopted several changes, including a name change (formerly Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church, now Skidaway Community Church). We were told the church is still Presbyterian, but the hope is that the new name will attract more worshipers. I still am not sure what I should think about this.

We also are in the early stages of searching for a new minister, and like most everyone else, feeling the disruption caused by COVID, social distancing and abbreviated services.

We still include corporate confession and assurance of pardon every week (although sometimes the assurance is applied narrative rather than scripture), but we are no longer reciting the Apostle’s Creed, or another statement of faith. I think it is a mistake to omit it. We need to bear witness exactly to what we believe.

C. S. Lewis, who coined the term “mere Christianity” also warned against its misapplication and abuse:

I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions–as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.  It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  (Mere Christianity, 1980).

I Wish to be Like Jesus

A children’s prayer song:

I wish to be like Jesus,
So humble and so kind.
His words were always tender,
His voice always divine.
But no, I’m not like Jesus,
As anyone can see.
O Savior come and help me
And make me just like thee.

                                                                              Author unknown

“Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Mark 10:15, J.B. Phillips

 

Blessed Hope

Quoting Charles Hodge in an excellent podcast on “Blessed Hope”:

“Our duty, privilege and security are in believing, not in knowing, and trusting God and not our own understanding.  They are to be pitied who have no more trustworthy teacher than themselves.”

Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, but based on the promises of God in Christ Jesus.  All of them.

Noting the influence of relativism not only in our culture, but also in Christianity, this comment by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul was shared:

“I’m afraid that in the United States of America today the prevailing doctrine of justification is not justification by faith alone, it’s not even justification by good works, or by a combination of faith and works.  The prevailing notion of justification on our culture today is justification by death.  All one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die.”

Fatally sad.